- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Like you, I have been watching with interest the progress of state legislative efforts, such as 2006 Maryland House Bill 135, to require pharmacies to provide their blind and visually impaired customers with audible prescription labels. Frankly, I’m amazed that state legislatures are being forced to address this issue.

Since 1992, federal regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have required pharmacies to take steps necessary to ensure that blind and visually impaired customers are not treated differently than sighted customers because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, such as audio readers, necessary to ensure effective communication.

Without the availability of effective communication aids, blind pharmacy customers are unable to independently enjoy the same goods and services enjoyed by sighted pharmacy customers, namely the availability of crucial, sometimes life-saving, written prescription information. No one should be fooled into thinking that a brief, over-the-counter, face-to-face counseling session by a busy pharmacy technician reading bits and pieces of a prescription label is effective.

How is a blind pharmacy customer with six different prescriptions expected to remember the details of each label and the accompanying inserts, let alone distinguish one prescription from another after leaving the pharmacy, without an effective auxiliary communication aid?

Perhaps state legislators, like those behind Maryland H.B. 135, have grown weary of the lack of voluntary regulatory compliance by pharmacies and feel that new state legislation is needed to protect the rights of their blind and visually impaired constituents. Isn’t it ironic that pharmacy associations would oppose such efforts, as you pointed out on March 27, even though their stated purpose is to support the health and well-being of the public as well as the safe and effective use of medications?

If pharmacies have ever been at a loss for ideas as to what constitutes an effective auxiliary communication aid under the ADA or what alternative means may be employed to protect the privacy of their blind customers’ health information in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, they should look to www.audiblelabels.org. This site is a unique resource designed to compile legal requirements relevant to these important issues and critique the various modes of auxiliary prescription information communication alternatives.


John Little, health care lawyer

Via the Internet

Dear John:

It is evident that the government is enforcing the Americans With Disabilities Act the same way they enforce our immigration laws. The words that come to mind are “benign neglect.” It is shameful that when audio prescription devices such as Script Talk are available for the visually impaired, the pharmacies are ignoring this viable safety solution. The Justice Department is equally noncompliant by not enforcing the provisions of the ADA.

Shaft notes

• Congratulations to Adm. Daniel L. Cooper for his “re-enlistment” with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved his renomination to be undersecretary of veterans affairs for benefits.

Adm. Cooper was confirmed in 2002 to a four-year term that expired March 31. The law allows his reappointment, which the president initiated.

Once the panel achieved a quorum, it interrupted its morning hearing on Department of Veterans Affairs research investment to quickly give the nod to Adm. Cooper. The committee approved the nomination by voice vote and sent it along to the full Senate for consideration.

Adm. Cooper has been responsible for directing the Veterans Benefits Administration since 2002. He is charged with administering VA benefits, such as compensation, pensions, home loan guaranty and life insurance, to veterans and their dependents.

The committee vote on Adm. Cooper’s renomination was originally scheduled for April 5, but was postponed until Congress returned from its two-week spring recess.

• The Department of Veterans Affairs recently hosted an event involving more than 600 U.S. military veteran seniors. The annual event is known as the National Golden Age Games and is in its 20th year. It was part of the VA’s National Rehabilitation Special Events and took place May 7 through Friday in Hampton, Va.

The purpose of the event is to promote awareness of the therapeutic value of recreation and sports. The games tie into a joint initiative between VA and the Department of Health and Human Services called “Steps to a Healthier U.S.,” which promotes nutrition and exercise to fight diabetes and obesity among veterans.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail [email protected]

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